Healey, on campaign swing, pledges focus on transit

  • Attorney General Maura Healey sinks a jump shot during a basketball game organized by the Holyoke Safe Neighborhood Initiative on Wednesday afternoon at Jackson Courts in Holyoke. Healey made the campaign stop as part of her Healey Hoops community basketball tour with State Senator John Velis, other local officials and community members. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

  • Attorney General Maura Healey dishes a pass during a basketball game organized by the Holyoke Safe Neighborhood Initiative on Wednesday afternoon at Jackson Courts in Holyoke. Healey made the campaign stop in her Healey Hoops community basketball tour with State Senator John Velis, other local officials and community members. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

  • State Senator John Velis, right, puts up a shot during a basketball game organized by the Holyoke Safe Neighborhood Initiative on Wednesday afternoon at Jackson Courts in Holyoke. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

  • Local officials and community members, including Attorney General Maura Healey, right, tip off for the start of a basketball game organized by the Holyoke Safe Neighborhood Initiative on Wednesday afternoon at Jackson Courts in Holyoke. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

  • Asha Zayas takes a shot defended by Attorney General Maura Healey during a basketball game organized by the Holyoke Safe Neighborhood Initiative on Wednesday afternoon at Jackson Courts in Holyoke. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

  • Local officials and community members play in a friendly basketball game organized by the Holyoke Safe Neighborhood Initiative on Wednesday afternoon at Jackson Courts in Holyoke. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

  • Attorney General Maura Healey, right, contends for a loose ball against Martin Phillips during a basketball game organized by the Holyoke Safe Neighborhood Initiative on Wednesday afternoon at Jackson Courts in Holyoke. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

  • Attorney General Maura Healey drives to the hoop for a layup during a basketball game organized by the Holyoke Safe Neighborhood Initiative on Wednesday afternoon at Jackson Courts in Holyoke. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

  • State Senator John Velis takes a jump shot during a basketball game organized by the Holyoke Safe Neighborhood Initiative on Wednesday afternoon at Jackson Courts in Holyoke. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

  • Attorney General Maura Healey and State Senator John Velis take a rest on the bench during a basketball game organized by the Holyoke Safe Neighborhood Initiative on Wednesday afternoon at Jackson Courts in Holyoke. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

  • Local officials and community members pose for a photo before playing in a basketball game organized by the Holyoke Safe Neighborhood Initiative on Wednesday afternoon at Jackson Courts in Holyoke. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

  • Local officials and community members play in a friendly basketball game organized by the Holyoke Safe Neighborhood Initiative on Wednesday afternoon at Jackson Courts in Holyoke. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

  • 34, left, 10, FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

  • Attorney General Maura Healey looks for an open pass during a basketball game organized by the Holyoke Safe Neighborhood Initiative on Wednesday afternoon at Jackson Courts in Holyoke. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

  • Local officials and community members play in a friendly basketball game organized by the Holyoke Safe Neighborhood Initiative on Wednesday afternoon at Jackson Courts in Holyoke. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 8/17/2022 9:21:24 PM
Modified: 8/17/2022 9:17:56 PM

HOLYOKE — Maura Healey, the state’s attorney general and leading Democratic candidate for governor in November, is promising to expand regional transit in western Massachusetts and across the state.

In a campaign stop in Holyoke on Wednesday, Healey — a former Harvard University basketball standout who played the sport professionally overseas — took time to play hoops against a group of young people and local politicians before discussing her recently released transportation plan for the state.

“It’s a top priority,” she told the Gazette. “We aren’t going to have a functioning economy if we don’t have a functioning transit system.”

Healey has faced no active opponent ahead of the Democratic primary on Sept. 6. after state Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz dropped out of the race earlier this summer. On the Republican side, former state representative Geoff Diehl and businessman Chris Doughty are competing in the primary.

The transportation plan includes a commitment to appoint a “west-east rail director” within the state Department of Transportation, working with regional transit authorities like the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority to implement daily and more frequent bus travel, creating low-income fares and a “pathway” to fare-free buses, and auditing existing transportation projects in order to complete them more quickly, safely and for less money.

“Transportation, or lack of transportation, is holding too many people back and holding a lot of western Massachusetts residents back,” Healey said.

Healey said that making public transit safe, reliable and running at all hours is a goal.

“Particularly here in western Massachusetts you’ve got a lot of people who that’s the way they’re going to be able to get around,” she said. “If buses aren’t running at times when they need to go to work, to the grocery store, to a doctor’s appointment, public transit isn’t working for them.”

Asked about her proposal to move toward fare-free buses, Healey said that if public transit isn’t affordable for people, they won’t use it.

“We obviously have to find a way to pay for it,” she said. “But there’s a lot of ways to do that.”

Healey was in Holyoke for a quick stop on a whirlwind tour of Springfield, including a visit to Hampden County Sheriff Nick Cocchi’s annual cookout — a frequent destination for community leaders and politicians on the campaign trail.

The basketball game in Holyoke was organized by the Holyoke Safe Neighborhood Initiative, which was created by the sheriff’s department. Eddie Caisse, who leads the program, told the young people gathered to play against Healey and other elected officials: “You guys are worth the investment.”

Healey was joined by state Sen. John Velis, D-Westfield, who represents Holyoke and was himself once a basketball star at Westfield High School. He told those gathered that Healey has “a storied history of playing hoops … and investing in these types of programs.”

The game was physically intense, with the young team trying to dunk on Healey’s squad, which featured Velis as well as state Rep. Orlando Ramos, D-Springfield.

But the older politicians held their own. Velis hit jump shots and several put-backs while Healey brought the ball up the court and made sure it kept moving around the perimeter. Late in the first half, Healey hit two jumpers and dropped an assist on three consecutive possessions to bring the score to 22 to 26.

Youth ultimately won out, however, as the game finished soon after halftime as rain began to fall.

Healey was sweating as she spoke after the game about her transportation priorities. She said that east-west rail, in particular, is a project she is dedicated to bringing to life as soon as possible.

“Getting these projects up and running and delivered is so, so key,” she said.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.
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